How to Choose a Reputable Background Check Company

reputable background check companyIt was not long ago that we would have been discussing how important it is to conduct background checks on prospective employees, volunteers and even existing employees.  I am not saying that the ship has sailed, but most of you took notice and implemented a background screening program.  Good for you.

Now, we need to evaluate our process and make sure we are with a reputable background check company.  I will try to give you a few pointers to help you with your evaluation.  This might be the most important thing you do as an organization in 2014.

I have probably said this a thousand times, but I will say it another thousand times until everyone understands that the background screening industry is a highly unregulated industry.  There are no standards of care and there is not a standard definition of what constitutes a background check.

Yes, you can argue that the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act provides regulation for background screening firms.  However, read it carefully.  There are strong consumer protections.  How the Notice and Authorization Form must be constructed.  How you handle adverse information.   A requirement that screening firms have policies that ensure maximum accuracy.

So I would argue that there are regulations for dealing with adverse or negative information.  However, what if there is no adverse information?  What if the searches were so limited that they did not uncover any adverse information?  Does the FCRA provide a best practice guide for conducting a background check?  No.

That is what I mean by there is no standard definition of what constitutes a background check. 

I was speaking with a prospective client recently, an extremely large church with multiple campuses and nearing 10,000 members.  They said they wanted a quote to compare apples to apples against another quote they had received from a background screening firm that primarily serves the church market.

That is generally code for I want to find the cheapest solution.  Dangerous.

When the business administrator mentioned the screening firm, I directed them to the company’s website.  I had him read through their package descriptions.  It said they include “free re-verification” of all criminal records found in the national criminal database.

That sounds a lot like they are doing county criminal searches as part of their package so the prospect would ask why he would pay a couple dollars more per search with us.  However, this is a clever marketing tool that makes churches and ministries think they are receiving comprehensive criminal background checks that include national databases AND county criminal searches (which are critical…read this article).  In reality, the screening firm is selling only a cheap and incomplete database search and on the few occasions that a record is found, they will verify it with the court. 

The problem is that these databases are terribly incomplete and have high a high failure rate even for sex offenders.  These cheap databases only benefit the background screening firm peddling them.  Why?  Because they are extremely profitable.  And you have no idea what you are missing.

It is this lack of transparency that causes so many problems in the background screening industry.  And it is not fair to you as the consumer.  How can you be expected to be an expert on criminal record systems, courts, databases and legal issues?  And now slick marketing is applied to your lack of knowledge on these topics.  Is that what you expect from a screening partner?

Today, it has never been more critical to make sure you are partnered with a reputable background check company.  The safety and security of your organization depends on it.

Do you want to been joined at the hip with a screening firm that enters the relationship by misleading you?  Would you enter a personal relationship with someone who only told you what you wanted to hear?  Who only told half-truths?

That would probably be a recipe for divorce.  And if your screening firm is not being honest and placing profit above your organization’s safety, then you need to file for divorce. 

Selecting a reputable background check company can save you a lot of heart ache (and money in the long run).  Here are four areas that are impacted by making a poor screening firm selection:

1.  Customer Service.  I absolutely hate poor customer service.  My biggest directive as the CEO of Safe Hiring Solutions is that our clients and prospective clients can pick up a phone and call us, call us directly if I am their Client Services Manager, email us and we will respond.  We do not use automated systems.  We know the questions you have need to be answered now so you can make a critical decision.

We love our clients.  We understand that our clients are our business.  We are nothing without them.  I have purchased a fantastic book (we do this quarterly) and EVERY employee at SHS will read it and then we have book meetings in smaller groups to discuss it.  This book is about customer loyalty.

The background screening industry continues to go through mergers and acquisitions.  As these huge, publicly traded companies continue to get bigger and bigger, often the customer service suffers tremendously.

2.  Quality.  The background screening was not founded on a mission to provide high quality background checks.  The industry has acquiesced to the wants and desires of those we are supposed to serve by providing something that is instant and cheap.

I wish I could provide a $9 instant background check for all of our clients and know that we are providing a high quality service that protects your organization.  However, that is NOT possible.  There is no such thing as an instant background check.  They cannot be done.  No matter what you have been told.

Poor quality criminal record checks are perpetrated every single day, thousands of times.  At the far end of the low quality spectrum is the US Department of Justice accusation against a large background screening firm and that they may have conducted some 665,000 “fake background checks between 2008 and 2012.”

The DOJ said, “USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits.”

Say what?  This shows how important it is to select the right background screening partner.

3.  Fair Credit Reporting Act.  A reputable background check company will be committed to the integrity of the Fair Credit Reporting Act as well as state and local laws.  Google FCRA lawsuits and you might be shocked at what you find.  Many, many companies being sued because they are out of compliance with the FCRA.  Yes, it is your responsibility to adhere to the FCRA but I feel a moral obligation to make sure we at SHS keep you informed, educated and up-to-date with proper forms and processes that make your compliance a snap.  We are committed to your success.

There have been an increasing number of lawsuits involving background screening firms who are out of compliance with the FCRA.    It is not worth the risk to select a firm because they save you a couple dollars and in the end it costs you millions.

4.  EEOC.  The EEOC has made it clear that they believe the proliferation in criminal record checks is having a disparate impact on some minorities.  They offer very specific guidelines for organizations to ensure they are conducting background checks in a responsible manner.  Have you received this information from your background screening partner?

The bottom line is you are not protected just because you are doing background checks.  Choosing a reputable background check company might be the most important HR decision you make for your organization.

If you are ready to make that move, please contact us.

Do You Know Who is Visiting Your Organization?

Do you know who your visitors are each day? Many organizations have a simple sign-in book for visitors but no technology in place to determine if the visitor is who they say they are or data that tells them who is in their buildings on any given day or time.

SafeVisitor is a robust visitor management program that is being launched to help organizations better log, screen and track visitors, vendors and volunteers.

The following webinar will provide an overview on SafeVisitor.

For more information contact Mike McCarty, mike.mccarty@safehiringsolutions.com  888-215-8296

Cheap Volunteer Background Checks

cheap volunteer background checksHey, don't feel guilty.  Searching for cheap volunteer background checks is normal.

I have yet to work with or sit on a board of a volunteer organization that was not "cash conscious".  That is the nature of most not-for-profits.

So it makes perfect sense that we would apply this same principle to our selection of a background screening company.    Cheaper is always better, right?

Not necessarily.  We should not overpay for a product or service but simply searching for the cheapest volunteer background checks will ultimately place those that you serve at risk.  Is it really worth saving a few dollars while at the same time placing people and your organization at risk?

The big question then is why are cheap volunteer background checks risky?

1.     Not all Background Screening Companies Are The Same.  You have to know that you are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.  You should ask yourself a few questions:

a.     What am I getting for the price? 

b.     Limited search or unlimited? 

c.      Are they searching all names associated with our volunteers?  Are they charging me more fees if my volunteer has more than one name?

d.     Are they using a database or using multiple levels of screening?

e.     What are the security certifications of the screening firm and their online system?

f.       Do they provide easy ways of communicating with customer service when you have questions?

2.     The Background Screening Industry is a Highly Unregulated Industry.  There really are very few regulations on volunteer background checks.  This has given rise to the use of very low quality database products that are often marketed as a  "National Criminal Background Check."

3.     There is No Standard of Care.  The focus is on speed and profit.  You need to find a company that is focused on quality first and speed and well priced secondly.

4.     There is NOT a Complete Instant Criminal Database.  I don't care what a sales rep tells you, there is no such thing as a complete instant criminal database.  The FBI's NCIC is nowhere near complete. So you cannot rely on an instant criminal database search as your background screening program.  It is going to get someone hurt and possibly get you sued.

5.     No Such Thing as A $10 Comprehensive Volunteer Background Check.  I am sorry but you cannot screen your volunteers for $10.  It simply cannot be done correctly. 

6.     Limited Search to 7 Years.  The background screening industry works off a limited 7 year rule.  Unless your state law specific limits the search to 7 years, then there is no reason it should be stopped at 7 years.  Most organizations working with children would want to know if a volunteer candidate had been convicted of raping a child 10 years ago.

7.     Do NOT search Alias Names.  Most background screening firms will either 1) not search alias names; or 2) charge you additional fees for searching other names.  What if your volunteer candidate was recently married or changed their name.  Is it possible they could have criminal records under those names that are not being searched?

A quality volunteer background screening program MUST include the following:

·       Social Security Verification.  This identifies them. Provides any names they have been known by.  And provides address history.

·       National Criminal Database.  Yes, quality screening programs will include a national criminal database.  This is a required solution just not a stand-alone screening program.

·       National Sex Offender Search.  This is a 50 state sex offender registry search. 

·       County Criminal Search.  This is the solution that many background screening firms remove but is the critical component of the screening program. 

I hope this helps you to understand why cheap volunteer background checks are dangerous.  Even though you cannot conduct quality volunteer background checks for $10, you can do this for just a little bit more.  It does not have to break the bank.

Are you ready to start a quality volunteer screening program? 

Click here for more information on implementing a quality screening program.

Do You Want to Automate Your Reference Checks?

Traditional phone-based reference checks are a drain on time and resources.  Days or weeks of unreturned voicemails, long distance calls and the frustration of receiving only “name, rank and serial number” responses.

Reference checking is extremely important.  However, it has become a check list of things to accomplish and generally does not impact the hiring process.

Why? 

1.        Because they take too long and we have to get the position filled.

2.       Because they yield little, if any, quality information on our candidates.

3.       References are interrupted by our phone call, not prepared to sit back and focus and share candidly.

Would you believe that there is a much more cost effective way of conducting high quality reference checks?   And it does not require a telephone or any labor on your part.

How could that be?

automated-reference-check

eReferenceCheck is an automated reference checking platform that will streamline your hiring process.  eReferenceCheck uses competency-based templates that are customizable on a client by client basis or for individual positions.

How does it work? You decide how your want your account setup:

1.       The competency-based template(s). 

2.       How many references you require?

3.       How many of each type of reference.  Former supervisors, peers, etc.

4.       How frequently the system sends reminders to candidates and/or references.

5.       Language in your email templates for candidates and references.

That’s it.  Then all you are required to do is enter the name and email address of your candidates and eReferenceCheck does all the work.

To learn more about how eReferenceCheck can streamline your hiring or volunteer process, join us for a “live” upcoming webinar:

6/18/2013 Automated Reference Checks for Schools Register

6/20/2013 Automated Reference Checks for Volunteers Register

6/24/2013 eReferenceCheck for Business Register

6/25/2013 Automated Reference Checks for Schools Register

6/27/2013 eReferenceCheck for Business Register

If you have questions, contact Mike McCarty at 317-745-6946 or mike.mccarty@safehiringsolutions.com

Warning! Employee Background Checks Can Get You In Big Trouble

employee background checksWe all know that not conducting employee background checks can get us in big trouble.  Sadly, there are still lots of organizations that are not conducing quality background checks and are exposing themselves to risk of harm as well as legal trouble such as negligent hiring and negligent retention.

However, that is not our focus today.

Did you know that conducing employee background checks can get you in big trouble?  Say what?

Background screening exploded in our post 9-11 world as organizations became consumed with safety and security.  We developed a heightened sense of awareness. 

Unfortunately, the background screening industry did not mature and develop into an industry focused on safety and security.  The proliferation of cheap criminal record checks still permeates the industry leaving organizations at risk.

Selecting the right background screening partner is one of the most important decisions an organization can make and should not be based on:

Price.  Quality background screening is not a commodity.  If you are looking for cheap, you will find it.  Comprehensive criminal record checks often cost just a few dollars more so it does not make sense to risk harm to your organization or expose yourself to legal risk to save a few dollars.

      Speed.  Turnaround time is important..  However, if you receive completed reports instantly or in a few hours then you are sacrificing quality for speed.  There is no such thing as an instant background check.

The right screening partner will provide a balance of speed and price without sacrificing quality. 

It has NEVER been more important for organizations to understand how to conduct legally compliant criminal background checks.  These 5 areas pose significant risk for organizations:

·         Negligent Hiring/Retention.  Low quality background checks inherently have high failure rates even for serious felony records.

·         Ban the Box.  Huge movement across the U.S. to disallow criminal history questions on an application.  This is spreading quickly in municipalities and state legislatures.  The foundation for this theory is that ex-offenders are being disenfranchised.  That if they were able to obtain an interview and explain their criminal history that they would be more employable.

·         EEOC.  The EEOC 2012-16 strategic plan focuses specifically on employers use of criminal background checks.  The belief is that the proliferation in background screening is having a disparate impact on certain minorities.  Organizations need to follow a 3 pronged approach:

o   What is the nature & gravity of the crime?

o   How long ago was the crime committed?

o   How does the crime impact the position held or sought?

·         Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Yes, the FCRA applies even if you are NOT conducting credit reports.  The FCRA has very specific requirements and recent lawsuits for non-compliance have been in the millions of dollars.  Simply put, the FCRA requires:

o   Candidates provided a Disclosure Statement AND provide an Authorization (written or electronic)

If taking adverse action based “in whole or part” on the screening report:

o   Pre-Adverse Action Letter, copy of the report and a Summary of Rights Under the FCRA.

o   Adverse Action Letter sent after 5 business days if candidate does not dispute the accuracy of the information.

·         Social Media Background Checks.   How many of you will admit to searching candidates through social media, Google, etc?  The concept is extremely appealing but can be fraught with problems.  Social media background checks can expose an organization to risk of:

o   Discrimination-Seeing protected information like age, race, marital status, etc.

o   Privacy-Yes, even the internet can have a reasonable expectation of privacy since most social media sites require some form of friending.

o   Authenticity-How do you know it is your candidate?  Common name spellings?  How do you know that your candidate is not operating online under an assumed name?

If you are not conducting high quality background checks then you are at risk of missing information, negligent hiring, negligent retention as well as compliance issues related to the FCRA, EEOC, social media and band the box. 

Is saving a few bucks worth all of these headaches?

This is topic is extremely critical to your organization and we simply cannot provide enough time or discussion to adequately cover this in an article.    So join us for a webinar:

·         Tuesday, May 14, 2013- Register

·         Tuesday, May 21, 2013- Register

Background Checks for Churches (Webinar)

Navigating the highly unregulated volunteer background screening industry is extremely challenging for churches and ministries.  The screening industry has been less than transparent about the use of cheap criminal databases that have a high failure rate even for sex offenders.  The following Background Checks for Churches Webinar hosted by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance provides insight on background screening and a perspective on the legal aspects of background screening by BMI attorney Kay Landwehr.

Update on Indiana SB 160 & HB 1160 School Background Checks

I wanted to give you an update on SB 160 and HB 1160, companion bills in the Indiana General Assembly that would remove private vendors as an option for schools conducting background checks. This past Thursday, I testified at the House Education Committee hearing on SB 160.  Rep Jeff Thompson offered an amendment that would strengthen the current law by requiring that all background screening firms would have to meet the definition of a Consumer Reporting Agency under federal law (we do).

The amendment passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 9-2.

Several representatives stated they were influenced by the letters and emails they have received from schools.

Your efforts are working!

We still have HB 1160 in the Senate Homeland Security, Transportation and Veteran Affairs Committee.  We need to contact the members of this committee and ask them to amend HB 1160 like the House Education Committee and allow private vendors to continue to serve Indiana schools.

Here are some key points from the hearing:

  1. The bill is being pushed by  L1 screening solutions, a Boston, MA based-company,who has the exclusive contract with the Indiana State Police to provide fingerprinting services. Right now the state police only works with 10% of schools so the bill would give a private Massachusetts company a 100% monopoly.
  2. State police testified that there is no study done that shows fingerprint background checks are any better than name based background checks.
  3. Rep Arnold mentioned that on another committee they have heard testimony on problems with smaller communities either not sending or very slow to send their criminal data to the state and feds.
  4. No one could answer Rep Todd Huston's question "are we trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist?"

Please contact DJ Weidner dj.weidner@safehiringsolutions.com or Brigitt Klaum brigitt.klaum@safehiringsolutions.com for sample letters that can be edited.

Here is the contact information for the Senate committee members:

Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City)

Email: S17@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9808        

Legislative Assistant: Ian Hauer

Email: Ihauer@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9808       

Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville)

Email: S50@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9494        

Legislative Assistant: Kristen Tjaden

Email: Ktjaden@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9494       

Sen. Michael Crider (R-Greenfield)

Email: S28@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9493        

Legislative Assistant: Brian Rockensuess

Email: Brockens@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9493       

Sen. James Merritt, Jr. (R-Indianapolis)

Email: S31@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9533        

Legislative Assistant: Dawna Smith

Email: Dsmith@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9533       

Sen. Allen Paul

Email: Senator.Paul@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9533          Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) – Ranking Minority Member

Email: S8@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9441        

Legislative Assistant: Michelle Moody          

Email: mmoody@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9532       

Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis)

Email: S34@in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 546-5136        

Legislative Assistant: Tyler Hempfling

Email: thempfli@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9534       

Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) 

Email: S3@in.gov

Telephone:         (219) 949-7578        

Legislative Assistant: Tracy Woolbright

Email: twoolbri@iga.in.gov

Telephone:         (317) 232-9491    

Please do not hesitate to email or call if you have questions.

 

Indiana HB 1160/SB 160 School Background Checks Bills

I wanted to give you a quick update and solicit your help on Indiana House Bill 1160 & Senate Bill 160, companion bills that would require schools go through the Indiana State Police and FBI for national background checks.  It would exclude private vendors of which 90% of Indiana schools use a private vendor. There is a critical hearing on SB 160 in the Indiana House Education Committee on Thursday, March 14, 2013 (no time as of yet).

The bills would:

  • Require you to go through the Indiana State Police and FBI. You would not receive a screening report but a letter from the state police that indicates your candidate does or does not have any “disqualifying convictions” under IC 20-28-5-8 (c).
  • The candidate could have felony convictions for theft, stalking, etc.  Or could have misdemeanor convictions.  There are more than 400 misdemeanor and felony crimes in the Indiana code.
  • FCRA allows Safe Hiring and private vendors to report non-convictions for a 7 year period.  Not included in bills.
  • You will not have a screening report to compare against your application.  Now, schools can compare the comprehensive report from Safe Hiring against your application.  If we show a conviction for say public intoxication and the candidate did not disclose it then you might take adverse action based on the dishonesty.
  • Turnaround time for our reports is 3 days.  Schools using current state system proposed in bills indicate 7 days to upwards of 6-9 weeks in August and September.
  • The cost would be significantly more.  We charge $28.  State fee is currently around $45.

What do you need to do?  You need to contact ALL of the following Representatives on the House Education Committee and express your concern with the bill an amendment that would include private vendors.

Please contact DJ Weidner dj.weidner@safehiringsolutions.com or Brigitt Klaum brigitt.klaum@safehiringsolutions.com for sample language or letter.  Toll free 888-215-8296

 

Here is the contact information:

HOUSE - Education Committee

Rep. Robert Behning (R – Indianapolis) - Chairman

Email: H91@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-81

Legislative Assistant: Josh Schlake

Email: jschlake@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9981

Rep. Rhonda Rhoads (R – Corydon) – Vice Chairman

Email: h70@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 234-3827

Legislative Assistant: Sam Hyer

Email: shyer@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 234-3827

Rep. Lloyd Arnold (R – Huntingburg)

Email: H74@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9833

Legislative Assistant: Blake Weaver

Email:  bweaver@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9833

Rep. Woody Burton (R – Whiteland)

Email: h58@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9620

Legislative Assistant: Lex Fay

Email: lfay@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9620

Rep. Edward Clere (R – New Albany)

Email: h72@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9648

Legislative Assistant: Matt Elliott

Email: melliott@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9648

Rep. Dale DeVon (R – Granger)

Email: h5@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9678

Legislative Assistant: Ben Begines Email: bbegines@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9678

Rep. Todd Huston (R – Fishers)

Email: h37@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 234-9380

Legislative Assistant: Joe Jacoby

Email: jjacoby@iga.in.gov;

Telephone:  (317) 234-9380

Rep. Jim Lucas (R – Seymour)

Email: h69@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9671

Legislative Assistant: Jason Johnson

Email: jjohnson@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9671

Rep. Jeff Thompson (R – Lizton)

Email: h28@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9793

Legislative Assistant: Jacob Quinn

Email: jquinn@iga.in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9793

Rep. Vernon Smith (D – Gary) - Ranking Minority Member

Email: h14@in.gov;

Telephone: (219) 980-7120

Legislative Assistant: Anne Hancock

Email:

Telephone: (317) 232-9976

Rep. Kreg Battles (D – Vincennes)

Email: h45@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9600

Legislative Assistant: Zarah Hileman

Email:

Telephone: (317) 233-5248

Rep. Sue Errington (D – Muncie)

Email: h34@in.gov;

Telephone: (800) 382-9842

Legislative Assistant: Anne Hancock

Email:

Telephone: (317) 232-9976

 

Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh (D – Crown Point)

Email: h19@in.gov;

Telephone: (317) 232-9600

Legislative Assistant: Keri Dattilo

Email:

Telephone: (317) 232-0243

 

 

Accurate Employee Background Checks

employee background checksThere is no bigger issue for the background screening industry in 2013 than providing accurate employee background checks.  This is a paradigm shift because the screening industry has historically provided low quality products and services. Sadly, low quality, cheap, incomplete criminal record checks continue to dominate the volunteer screening market.  Organizations placing children and vulnerable populations at risk because they have been convinced by savvy sales reps that you can conduct a quality volunteer background check for under $10.

Sorry, can’t be done.

Well, that is another article.

The focus on speed and cheap background checks has now impacted the entire employment background screening community.  I have been preaching against this horrible practice since the day I launched Safe Hiring Solutions.  And I will continue to scream and demonstrate that quality volunteer and employee background checks can be done cost effectively.

Here is how the low quality standards that permeate the screening industry have had a negative impact:

  1. Greater scrutiny from the EEOC.  The EEOC 2012-16 strategic plan targets background checks.
  2. More states passing legislation to restrict the use of criminal background checks.
  3. Proliferation in media coverage of cases where inaccurate background checks harmed people.
  4. Lawsuits alleging inaccuracies or not following the FCRA are increasing.  The most recent is a case brought by the federal government against a large background screening firm for not following the requirements of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The screening firm settled for $2.6 million in 2012
  5. Greater risk to organizations because violent offenders are sneaking through the process.

Technology is a wonderful thing.  It has contributed to quick and affordable quality background checks.  However, no technology can provide an instant background check or a quality background search for $10.

So the key takeaway is accuracy is important.   It should be the #1 question you ask.  Not “how much does this cost.”

The responsible use of employee background checks is important (i.e. no zero tolerance policies).

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act exists to provide consumer protections.  So it is critical that you understand your obligations under the FCRA.

One of the most important organizational decisions you will make is selecting a screening partner who:

  • Provides the most accurate information available
  • Provides the reports in a timely manner (remember instant is not quality)
  • Is committed to the integrity of the Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • Will help you understand your legal obligations
  • Will help you navigate the myriad of ever-changing federal, state and local laws

If the don’t, you may find yourself in a legal hot seat.

How Do We Make Sense of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting?

adam lanza background checkI have stared at this screen for the past 5 days, contemplating what value I could add to such a horrific tragedy.   But with every tragedy, there are life lessons. I have struggled to understand the motive since the mass murder in Newtown, CT.  As a former violent crime detective, I am always looking for motive.  Why did this happen?

There is never a rational reason for such a horrendous crime.  Is there really anything more evil than the execution of little children?

There is generally a motive that develops.  Something we can sink our teeth into and help us understand or explain something awful.

Yet the best guess is the killer, Adam Lanza, might have feared his mom was going to commit him to an institution.  Ok, then maybe that explains why he killed his mother.

But why does he blast his way into an elementary school and execute administrators, teachers and 20 precious little kids?  One theory being floated is Lanza was angry with his mother because she volunteered at Sandy Hook Elementary and he felt she cared more for these children than she did for him.

Well, that is not a rational motive to you and I.  Maybe it was to Lanza.  Or maybe it was something else.  We may never know.

So what can we learn from this?

First, there are some real dangerous people in this world.  That should not surprise you.

Many of the Adam Lanza’s of the world do not have a criminal record so a criminal background check alone will not protect your organization.

Sadly, many of you that work with children are operating volunteer organizations, day cares, youth sports or schools on shoe string budgets.  But you are a lightning rod for someone with an evil desire to harm children.

Those who want to harm kids will always seek access to kids.

How do we prevent something like this from happening again?

Wow, there will be no shortage of debate. Gun control is already rippling through Congress.  Unfortunately, extreme evil is difficult to legislate.

I hate to admit, but I have visited hundreds and hundreds of schools as a parent, but most often to meet and discuss our background screening solutions.  Rarely do I encounter a school that requires me to buzz my way in.

Most schools I could walk in the front door and dart left or right completely undetected.  So we may have to rethink our openness.

I have never been asked for a photo ID as I enter a school.  I am generally required to sign-in.  I am honest.  The Adam Lanza’s might not be.

Do we have intercom system distress signals?  Simple codes that are constantly reinforced with teachers and administrators that can provide an alert of an incident.  That can provide direction for fleeing away from the incident.  If someone like Lanza enters a school intent upon killing children, he is not going to be fooled into believing a classroom is empty because the door is shut and lights turned off.  Kids lined up against the door-side wall or under their desk are sitting ducks.

We need to train our front-line employees (receptionist, office secretaries, etc) to be careful observers.  If they have a gut feeling, somebody makes their hair stand-up on the back of their neck, they need to share it.

We are so fearful of saying anything.

Here me.  Lanza had freaky eyes.  I would have no problem saying that.  I notice freaky eyes.  I get away from them.  I get my kids away from them.

I NEVER walk into a market that I have not scanned everyone in that market before I walk in.  I prefer to sit in coffee shops and restaraunts with my eyes on the door so I can see who is coming in (this is a challenge with a wife who was also a police officer for 20 yrs).

Paranoid?  No.  I understand there are people in this world that could hurt me or my family.  There is nothing I would not do to keep my family safe.

You must read the Gift of Fear.

The bottom line is we need to step back, take a deep breath and look at our policies and procedures.  Is there room for improvement?  Always.

We need to control access to our schools.  When I drop my kids off in the morning, I should see a teacher, administrator, or staff member standing at those doors watching who is coming in.

Thousands of parent volunteers come through our doors every day and most school districts are doing very limited background checks.  It is not worth the risk.

We need to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our kids safe.

We also need to keep these families in our prayers this Christmas Season.

Warning! New CFPB Background Check Forms Required

cfpb background checksThere is a new sheriff in town.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken the enforcement reins of the Fair Credit Reporting Act from the Federal Trade Commission. What does that mean for you as a user of consumer reports or background check reports?  Initially, you have to comply with changes in 3 background screening forms.

These reports were changed very little from what you currently have but they remove language related to the FTC and have inserted the CFPB information.  These forms MUST be adopted no later than 01/01/2013.

If you use our ATS “paperless” process, the forms will be automatically updated over the coming weeks.  I would still suggest downloading a hard copy of the forms for your records.

Here are the two forms you must download and use (I know, I mentioned 3 forms above):

The third form, Notice to Furnishers of Information, is only required if you are a vendor that provides consumer information to Safe Hiring Solutions.

If you are not familiar with the first two forms, you should be.

The Notice to Users of Consumers Reports articulates your legal requirements under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The FCRA has some very specific requirements for organizations that are using a “third party” background screening vendor.

The Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA is to be provided to your candidates EVERY time you initiate Pre-Adverse Action based “in whole or part” on a background screening report.  The summary educates your candidates about their rights and is intended to provide consumer protection against low quality background checks.

Feel like you need a refresher on the FCRA?  Join us for a free webinar on 12/13/2012 New CFPB Requirements & the FCRA.  Click here to register.

4 Reasons You Should Be Conducting Current Employee Background Checks

employee background checksAll too often employee background checks are synonymous with pre-employment background checks.  Unfortunately, if our criminal record check policy is a one-and-done process then we expose our organization to unnecessary risk. Background screening, like health insurance, is an ongoing requirement.  The bad news is we will not see ObamaScreening in the next 4 years.  However, the good news is high quality background checks are extremely affordable, unlike healthcare.

There are 4 reasons you should be conducting current employee background checks:

  1. Employees who pre-date background check policy.  The background screening industry is literally still a toddler.  Even with the proliferation of criminal records checks after 9-11-01, this was focused on pre-employment checks and leaves a large pool of current employees that have never had a criminal background check.
  2. A lot can change in 20+ year career.  Simply conducting pre-employment background checks will not be enough to protect our organizations.
  3. Criminal background checks are time sensitive.  The minute a background screening report is returned, it is a historic document.  What does that mean?  Well, your candidate could commit a crime tonight and it would not be reported in the screening report completed earlier today.  Recently, one of our large school district clients inadvertently ordered a re-check on an employee.  The employee had a pending felony theft case and when we called the school to notify them, they were shocked.
  4. Negligent Retention.  We hear a lot about negligent hiring.  However, the twin sister of negligent hiring is negligent retention.  Basically that as an employer becomes aware or should have become aware of problems with an employee and you take no corrective action (investigating, reassignment or termination).  Ongoing background checks provide protection against the “becomes aware or should have become aware.”

Implementing a current employee background check program is very simple.  Yes, it does require a policy change and articulating a business necessity (protect our employees, customers, etc).  And yes, you will hear some grumbling from employees.

We have also created technology that makes screening existing employees easier.  First, we can enter a date in your account, such as 5 years, and then you will receive a monthly report of any employee who has a background check expiring in the next 30 days.  You simply check the employees you wish to re-screen and email it to your account representative who uploads it to our system.

Or you can use our “paperless” process where we program a link that can be placed on your website.  Your employees click on a link, sign and e-authorization, input their information and initiate a background check.  You even have the option of adding a merchant account if you require employees to pay for their background checks.

Join us on 11/28/2012 at 2PM EST for a FREE webinar:   Should We Be Screening Existing Employees?  Click here to register.

Dangerous Truths About School Volunteer Background Checks

Volunteers can pose a significant risk to school districts so it is critical to conduct comprehensive volunteer background checks and not rely on incomplete and cheap background screening solutions which place our kids at risk. The following 7 minute presentation provides a road map to implementing a comprehensive volunteer background screening program.

  

Why Do You Need My SSN for Volunteer Background Checks?

volunteer-background-checks

I will admit that I don’t hand over my social security number very easily. 

I want to know why somebody needs it and how they are going to safeguard it, so I am sympathetic to volunteers being nervous about providing their SSN for volunteer background checks.  

They have a right to ask a few questions.

Yes, there are specific laws that require you to provide your SSN like to the IRS for tax purposes or to your employer for wage and tax reporting.

Why Do You Need My SSN for Volunteer Background Checks?

I have been asked several times recently if it is legal to ask for an SSN as part of a background check. 

The simple answer is yes.

Now, does a volunteer have to give their SSN to an organization as part of their criminal background check process?  Absolutely not.

Huh?  That is right.  You have a right to ask and they have a right to say no.

The Social Security Administration provides legal requirements to provide your social security numberVolunteer background checks are not listed as a legal requirement.

You need to read through the entire page.  Just because you are not required to give it does not mean the organization cannot ask for it.  It is not illegal to ask.

The second to last paragraph sums up the debate:

”If a business or other enterprise asks you for your Social Security number, you can refuse to give it. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service for which your number was requested.”

So what does that mean for a volunteer who refuses to provide their SSN as part of your screening process?

  1. You cannot require them to provide it;

  2. They have no discrimination claim; and

  3. You do NOT have to allow them to volunteer if they refuse.

It is no different than if a volunteer refused to sign an authorization for the background check.  You cannot make them.  They have a right to refuse.  But you also have a right to refuse them as a volunteer if they will not submit to your policies and procedures.

Click here for more on background checks with Safe Hiring Solutions.

I do think it is important for our partners to articulate why the SSN is an important part of the volunteer screening program.  Our volunteers have a right to know how their SSN will be handled and used.

Quite honestly, we cannot conduct a quality volunteer background checks without the SSN. 

The social security number:

  1. Identifies the volunteer.

  2. Helps determine correct spelling of name(s).

    Without the SSN a volunteer with something to hide could alter the spelling of their name, change their name, etc. How would you know?

  3. Identifies any other names a person has been known by.

    Without SSN we are relying on the victim to provide this. What if they have unsuitable criminal records under another undisclosed name?

  4. Identifies address history so we know where to search at the county level.

The bottom line is you should require the SSN as part of your background screening program. 

It is simply not worth the risk of missing a serious criminal record. 

Also spend a little time educating your volunteers why the SSN is important and your commitment to safeguarding their sensitive information.

Join us for a free webinar:  How to Conduct Comprehensive Volunteer Background Checks

2 Dangers of Volunteer Background Checks

volunteer background checksHow much do volunteer background checks cost?  It is the one question we are asked many, many times per day. Every request for information is really a request for pricing.  The handful of times each month that a potential client is focused on safety and security is almost always driven by an incident where a volunteer with a violent background passed their current background screening process.

Unfortunately, they have learned the hard way about the low standards of care in background screening.  How the screening industry has no standard definition of what a background check consists of.  And how easy it is for violent offenders to receive a clear through these cheap criminal database searches.

So when a large volunteer organization told us today that they can get the exact same background check for $3 I just sighed.  Then I laughed (not on the phone).  Not because it is hilarious.  But because I have spent more than 8 years focusing on educating organizations on how to protect themselves.   I have been presenting at conferences, blogging, conducting webinars, conducting interviews in print radio and television.  Talking until I am blue in the face.

I laugh because it is preposterous to think you can protect a child for the cost of the latte on your desk.  I laugh because that is what I do when I am frustrated.  I know that large numbers of children are now at risk with this organization because they are more concerned with saving a few dollars than protecting them.

Conducting low quality criminal record checks plagues the volunteer world.  Believe me, I get it.  I have seen the eye-catching marketing that makes you believe for $10 you can ensure the safety of your organization.

However, these cheap background checks are placing your organization at great risk of allowing someone to volunteer who is intent upon harming a child.

Here are the 2 biggest dangers of volunteer background checks:

  1. Instant Results.  If your background screening program is instant, then it is junk.  There is no such thing as an instant background check.  Background screening requires multiple levels of screening including searches of county courts where candidates live or have lived.
  2. Less Than $10.  Sorry but you cannot conduct quality background checks for $3 or $10.  Cannot be done.  Read the disclaimers on the $10 search and see if you are still comfortable.  This is a search of incomplete databases.  There does not exist a database, not even the FBI’s NCIC that is complete.

It drives me crazy how background screening firms place profit above the safety and security of children.  And these cheap criminal database searches are very profitable.  There is no labor.  You do all the work of inputting the names and filtering the results.

I honestly could not sleep at night if we were peddling these incomplete searches.

So what do you need to do if you are are using an instant background check or one that costs $10 or less?

Join us for a webinar How to Conduct Comprehensive Volunteer Background Checks.

Post 9/11 World of Employee Background Checks

employee background checksThis morning reminded me so much of the morning of 9-11-2001.  Crisp, clear and sunny.  Innocent. I remember jumping in a cab early that morning in Washington DC as the city was waking up.  I had two appointments.  First, I was speaking to a group of federal probation officers on preventing violence against women and children.  Then after lunch I was heading across the river for a meeting with the Department of Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence.  I never made it across the river (thankfully).

I was reflecting on that day during my morning commute.  I was thanking God for protecting me that day.  I was also thinking about how 9-11 impacted employee background checks.

The young background screening industry exploded immediately after 9-11.  Our sense of safety and security had been stolen.

I can remember boarding a plane the day flights resumed for a cross-country flight and realized immediately our world had changed.  Security screening was intense.

Gone were the days when you pre-boarded a plane and focused on your work, laptop, mobile phone (no iPad yet) or book.  Every passenger was studying each person boarding the plane, looking for any sign of a potential terrorist.

We were on heightened alert.  Highly sensitive.  Focused.

Then I noticed over the years that this started to fade.  We started to fall back into our old patterns and habits.

And we have seen the same type of shift in employee background checks.  The pendulum has swung a different direction.

The EEOC has made criminal record checks a high priority with their 2012 strategic plan.  They have made it clear that they believe the proliferation of criminal background checks has had a negative impact ex-offenders.

Yet very little thought to how the victims of the ex-offenders were impacted.

Several states have enacted laws to restrict the reporting of criminal records with many other states exploring similar restrictions.  This has been dubbed “second chance” laws.

Really?  Second chance?  If so, I am all for that.  Someone makes a mistake, pays their debt, learns from their mistake and moves forward.  I would participate in that graduation ceremony.

However, my 20+ years of experience with the criminal justice system has lead me to believe the law should be more accurately described as the tenth time law.  We have tried everything to lower recidivism rates:

  • Education
  • Tougher sentencing
  • Drug courts
  • Anger management

And as we continue to see the same percentage of offenders return to prison as we did 20 years ago (before the proliferation of background checks) then the only thing left is employment.

It is the lack of gainful employment that caused someone to steal a bike from the side of our home 2 weeks ago.

It is a lack of gainful employment that drives a person to physically abuse their partner.

It is a lack of gainful employment that leads someone to sexually abuse a 10 year old child.

Or is it personal choice and responsibility?

Should a bad decision 20 years ago such as a DUI, public intoxication, simple possession impact your employment today?  Probably not.  The recent case of a bank employee in Iowa being fired after a background check revealed a conviction 49 years ago for putting fake coins in a laundry machine is absurd.  Actually it is stupid.

However, we need to understand how broad-brush restrictions such as the recent law in Indiana WILL impact our organizations.  Yes, it may help this victim of an ignorant bank.  But it will also open the door for career criminals to hide their past so that you do not receive the full picture during the pre-employment process.

So on this anniversary of 9-11-2001, it is critical that we understand the shifting tides with employment background checks and how that could impact our organizations.  Let your voices be heard.

Join us for a webinar on the new Indiana laws restricting criminal history checks.  Register today.

Indiana Reporting Restrictions in Criminal Background Checks

criminal background checksIndiana has now joined a handful of other states by implementing changes in what can be legally reported in criminal background checks.  The EEOC has been leading the charge with sweeping changes aimed at limiting the use of criminal records for employment decisions. So we should not be surprised that states and local governments are also starting to move in this direction.  Indiana House Enrolled Act 1033, has several restrictions on the use of criminal records.  However, part of the law was effective July 1, 2012 and other sections of the statute do not take effect until July 1, 2013.

Let’s look at the criminal history restrictions that are in place as of July 1, 2012:

  • Residents of Indiana with restricted or sealed criminal records may legally state on an “application for employment or any other document” that they have not been arrested or convicted of the restricted or sealed record(s).
  • Covered employers will NOT be allowed to ask an employee, contractor or applicant about sealed or restricted criminal records (the statute does not define the term employer).
  • The law restricts what information individuals, background screening firms and employers can obtain from clerks of the courts.  The law prohibits courts from disclosing information related to infractions(important to note this refers to infractions not misdemeanor and felonies) where the person is:
    • not prosecuted or case is dismissed;
    • not convicted;
    • convicted of the infraction but case is vacated; or
    • convicted of the infraction and satisfied any judgment to the infraction conviction more than 5 years ago.

Effective July 1, 2013, the law will restrict what “criminal history providers” can report.  The law will only allow the reporting of convictions and Consumer Reporting Agencies (background screening firms) will no longer be able to report the following:

  • an infraction, charge or arrest that did not result in a conviction;
  • a  record that has been expunged;
  • a record indicating a conviction of a Class D felony if the felony conviction has been converted to a Class A misdemeanor; and
  • a record that the criminal history provider knows is inaccurate.
  • any record that has not been verified with the court within the past 60 days.

How do you think the new law will impact your criminal background checks program?

Join us for a free webinar to discuss the new laws:  New Indiana Laws Restrict Criminal History Reporting

EEOC Strategic Plan & Legally Defensible Background Checks

The new EEOC Strategic Plan has placed employers use of criminal records in the middle of their cross hairs.  Normally, we try to keep our blog posts short and concise so you can easily digest the information. However, I thought it this topic was so important that I would share a webinar we recently presented on the new EEOC Strategic Plan.

EEOC Strategic Plan and Legally Defensible Criminal Background Checks from Mike McCarty on Vimeo.

Are Employment Background Checks to Blame for High Recidivism Rates?

employment background checksEvery single day I am reading articles about “Ban the Box”, the EEOC new strategic plan that focuses on narrowing the use of criminal records in employment decisions and a myriad of blog comments that suggest employment background checks are to blame for high offender recidivism and that I should be prosecuted for high crimes related to my dedication to safety, security and violence prevention. I admit that after 20 years of violence prevention work, including 7 years as a violent crime detective, I am committed to preventing violence.   The current trend is to silence the voice of violence survivors and focus on external causes for offenders re-offending (that is what we have been doing for 30 years with no success).

Yes, maybe having a front row seat to the ravages of violence, interviewing women and children who have been brutally raped and beaten gives me a slightly different perspective.  For me, violence is not a benign and impersonal study but a child named Sam or a rape victim named Susan.  It is real.

I read studies like the recent NM Legislative Study that finds 50% of NM offenders are back in prison within 5 years.  And that the average offender makes 3 trips to prison.

I will say it again (because most of the comments I receive are from people who have not heard this) that yes, I am a founder and CEO of a fast growing background screening firm.  I have ALSO been involved in prison ministries and am a board member of Outreach, Inc. in Indianapolis which serves homeless teens of which criminal records and lack of employment are barriers.

So yeah, actually I do understand and listen to both sides.  But I also know that violence is a choice.

Does gainful employment play a significant role in getting an offender back on his or her feet?  Absolutely if it is married to personal responsibility and a commitment to change.

What about issues of substance abuse?  Education?  Lack of family support and structure?  Thinking errors?

Are most burglaries committed to feed a family or to satisfy a drug habit?  Depends who you speak with.

I have seen many, many people turn from a life of crime and violence and become productive members of society.  Not a single one of them would credit a job as being the one thing that turned them around.  No, they would list Jesus Christ.  Pastor.  Positive role model.  A program that instilled a sense of purpose and validated them.

The current trends are imbalanced.  And without balance, we will fall.

I agree that zero tolerance policies for criminal records are not a responsible approach to recruiting and hiring.  Also, blanket policies that tell employers they cannot ask about criminal records on an application or cannot use criminal records are irresponsible.

One of the arguments for ban-the-box legislation is that it saves organizations money because they do not have to run a criminal background check until after the interview.  Frankly, I don’t know of many employers that are running background checks until they make a conditional offer.

And for some organizations, ban-the-box will cost them more money in recruiting.  We work with hundreds of schools who have state laws that preclude them from hiring ex-offenders who have committed certain crimes.   So now they are going to invest time and labor to bring a candidate through the recruiting process only to discover at the end that they are excluded under state law from being employed.

The application is a great tool for gathering information for our due diligence process.  We know people lie on applications.  Remember the Notre Dame football coach a few years ago?   Dishonesty is and always should be grounds for disqualification.  But now we are going to remove questions about criminal records.

I know, we can ask them during an interview.  But if they lie by speaking then doesn’t that become my word against yours instead of having a signed application?

So the debate is really starting to heat up across the U.S.  What I would like to see is a balanced discussion on how to convert offenders to ex-offender status.   I think it is reasonable that we can have civil debates on the responsible use of employment background checks.

If you are unclear how the new EEOC strategic plan might impact your organization, join us for a free 30 minute webinar on 7/24/2012 at 2PM EST.  Click her to register.

Employee Background Check Lawsuit Settled for $2 Million

employee background checkBaldor Electric Co. has agreed to settle a U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs discrimination claim based on their employee background check policy for $2 million.   Baldor holds more than $18 million in federal contracts and is owned by ABB Ltd. In Zurich, Switzerland. The Labor Department investigation determined that Baldor’s background screening process had a disparate impact on women and minorities.  The result was 795 qualified women and minorities did not have an opportunity to advance to the interview stage of the hiring process.

Does this sound familiar?

It should if you have been following the EEOC over the past 12 months.  The new EEOC Guidelines issued this spring has placed criminal record checks in the center of their radar.

Now the DOL has taken the same position as the EEOC believing that the proliferation of criminal background checks is adversely affecting ex-offenders.  This is a tough new environment for employers who are trying to balance claims of negligent hiring and retention and workplace violence while at the same time having background screening policies that do not have a disparate impact on minorities.

The DOL investigation claimed that those candidates that were affected did not receive an interview because of their criminal history.  This is important to note.

Why?  Because the EEOC has made it clear that candidates with a criminal record should have an opportunity to explain the circumstances of their conviction.  This lines up with “Ban-the-Box” legislation that has been sprung up across the U.S. whereby employers in certain jurisdictions are banned from asking about criminal histories on the application.

So what are the employee background check lessons for us?

  1. Criminal background check policies should not be zero tolerance policies;
  2. Screening policies should consider:
    1. What is the nature of the criminal record?
    2. How long ago was the crime committed?
    3. How does the criminal record impact the position?
    4. Candidates should be given an opportunity to explain their criminal history.

There is a lot of activity across the U.S. impacting employee background checks so do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.